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What is the Moist Heat Sterilization Method?

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Moist heat sterilization is an effective way to eliminate possible infectious microorganisms from an object. This lesson will provide you with all kinds of information about this sterilization method.

Infection Prevention

Think about the last time you went to the dentist. What happened during your last visit? Your dentist or a dental hygienist probably poked and prodded your gums and teeth with sharp, metal dental instruments, such as a dental probe (the scary, super sharp, hook-shaped pic that makes so many people afraid of the dentist). The dentist or hygienist might have also flossed and polished your teeth to make them as clean as can be.

You know what most likely didn't happen the last time you were at the dentist? You most likely did not get an infection in your mouth from the tools the dentist and hygienist used. One of the main reasons why you did not get an infection (and why millions of people throughout the country do not get infections from various medical procedures) is due to moist heat sterilization.

Very rarely do dental tools cause infections, thanks to moist heat sterilization.
dental tools

What Is Moist Heat Sterilization?

Moist heat sterilization is a procedure in which heated, high-pressure steam is used to sterilize an object. This sterilization technique does not involve any toxic liquids or fumes, and it is relatively inexpensive, quick, and effective in killing and eliminating potentially infections bacteria, viruses, and spores. Hospitals use moist heat sterilization to sterilize medical equipment, such as surgical scalpels. Dentists also frequently use this sterilization technique to clean much of their dental equipment.

Bacteria and viruses are made up of proteins, and moist heat sterilization works by denaturing these proteins. Denaturation is a process in which the structures of the proteins are disrupted and altered, and once the bacteria and viruses are denatured, they will be unable to cause infection.

There are some disadvantages to moist heat sterilization. Since this sterilization technique uses steam (water vapor), the objects will get wet and have the potential to rust. Additionally, anytime pressurized heat is used, there is a potential for people to burn themselves.

Autoclave

Moist heat sterilization is performed in a piece of equipment called an autoclave, a pressurized chamber in which heated steam is used to sterilize various objects. In a hospital, contaminated surgical equipment will be placed in an autoclave. Once the autoclave is closed and turned on, pressurized steam (usually at a temperature of 121 degrees Celsius/250 degrees Fahrenheit) will fill the autoclave, quickly killing any bacteria or other infectious microorganisms that are found on the surgical equipment. In all, it usually takes about 15 minutes for the autoclave to effectively sterilize an object.

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